Veterinary scene Down Under: AI-driven pet advice app, plus Australia on alert after livestock disease outbreaks in Indonesia

dvm360dvm360 June 2022
Volume 53
Issue 6
Pages: 74

dvm360®’s Australian correspondent reports on an AI-driven app for pet owners and on outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease in nearby Indonesia

AI-driven app offers tailored advice to pet owners

Dr Nicole Su, co-founder of Upilio (Photo courtesy of Upilio).

Dr Nicole Su, co-founder of Upilio (Photo courtesy of Upilio).

Back when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Australia in early 2020 and her veterinary practice adapted by rostering its staff into separate teams for week-on/week-off work schedules, veterinarian Nicole Su, BSc, BVMS MANZCVS (unusual pets) had spare time on her hands and got involved in the development of Upilio, an innovative app for pet owners.

“I’ve been in exotics-only clinical veterinary practice since graduation in 2014, and when my vet practice moved to a team-based system with week-on/week-off scheduling at the start of the pandemic, I found myself in the unprecedented situation of not having enough to do on my week off,” Su said. “Then I heard via a friend about the work that computer programmer Nick Ihab was doing developing an AI [artificial intelligence]–driven pet advice app.”

“I felt that the idea of automating a little pet personal assistant in your pocket could be beneficial for both pet owners and their vets, augmenting the vet-patient-client relationship.”

The premise for Upilio came about when Nick Ihab, BSc, made the impulse decision to get 2 baby guinea pigs—only realizing afterward that he didn’t know how to care for them.

After reaching out on some online communities, Ihab realized that this was a common issue and that although the answers to many of his questions should come from a veterinarian, they didn’t need to come from a vet only during a consultation—and they could potentially be stored in a database that people could access at any time.

“For example, many questions were around what fruit and vegetables guinea pigs could safely eat, and there’s lots of contradictory advice online due to the ability of any random person to present their opinion as fact on the internet,” Su said. “When I joined Upilio, the app was a very basic database and profile maker, but we are planning on a comprehensive solution for diet and husbandry that encompasses the majority of pet species once we get funding."

“One major portion of the app will be a pet-food finder that takes into account allergens, special needs like skin health, age, breed, and size. [There will] also be alerts built into the system for queries that need a consultation, encouraging owners to follow up with their primary care veterinarian.”

Su and Ihab also plan to incorporate alerts into the app that would notify pet owners when they need to book an appointment for their pet by tracking parameters like weight fluctuations and food intake, as well as remind pet owners about their pet’s vaccinations and revisit appointments. Upilio is looking for further seed funding to aid development of the app and will debut a web version of its dog-food finder later in 2022.

Su said the past 2 years have been a rewarding experience because her veterinary expertise complements Ihab’s tech know-how.

“The combination of our backgrounds in vet and programming really makes it unique, and essentially what Nick is doing with the pet-food finder program is trying to replicate my own mental algorithm for recommending commercial diets when I am presented with a particular patient,” Su explained. “A large portion of our working time together consists of [me] explaining what I do in a veterinary sense in different situations and us coming up with a way to present this information in a way that helps owners understand—and is also tailored to the specific needs of their pet."

“We’re hoping to apply this concept to several challenges that pet owners face, but always in a way that reminds them that their primary care veterinarian still needs to be their pet’s main advocate and that encourages pet owners to seek pet care advice from vets instead of influencers, breeders, or pet store employees.”

Australia on high alert during lumpy skin disease, foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Indonesia

Photo courtesy of Australian Government Department of Agriculture.

Photo courtesy of Australian Government Department of Agriculture.

Recent outbreaks of the livestock diseases foot-and-mouth disease1 and lumpy skin disease2 in Indonesia have prompted Chief Veterinary Officer of Australia Mark Schipp to remind livestock producers and veterinarians in Australia to be vigilant against the diseases, which are currently not present in Australia.

Foot-and-mouth disease is a contagious viral disease that affects cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs, and prior to the current outbreak, Indonesia had been free of the disease since 1986. Lumpy skin disease is a viral disease of cattle and water buffalo that was previously limited to Africa; however, since 2019, the disease has spread through China and Southeast Asia. If either disease arrived in Australia, there would be devastating consequences for the livestock industries and animal trade.

The Australian Veterinary Association has also warned that Australia’s shortage of veterinarians in rural and regional areas could put the nation’s biosecurity at risk, with insufficient veterinary capacity to respond to any potential disease outbreaks.3

The Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment has been disseminating regular information updates on foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease to veterinarians and livestock industry groups.


  1. Media statement: foot and mouth disease detected in Indonesia. News release. Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. May 9, 2022. Accessed May 26, 2022.
  2. Australian Chief Vet to visit Indonesia for animal health cooperation talks. News release. Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. March 23, 2022. Accessed May 26, 2022.
  3. Brown A, Sinclair S. Vet shortage puts Australia’s biosecurity at risk as foot-and-mouth disease looms. ABC News (Australian Broadcast). May 10, 2022. Accessed May 26, 2022.
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